Before returning to the ballot, the LGBT community and its allies must gain insight into whether and how we can persuade some of those who voted against us on Prop 8 to reconsider.
Polling by a variety of sources suggests that California voters are close to evenly divided on the issue of marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Two recent polls are encouraging: the March 2010 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) that shows same-sex marriage with 50% of voters in favor and 45% opposed, and a July 2010 Field poll that shows 51% on our side. Still, there are reasons not to draw the conclusion from them that a victory is assured or even likely, for three reasons:
· Neither poll establishes majority support for same-sex marriage that would endure a future campaign like the one we faced with Prop 8; the polls don’t re-expose voters to the messages they saw or are likely to see again. The polls do not simulate the campaign environment when they ask voters the question.
· One poll by a particular pollster does not document a trend; it is merely a valuable but isolated data point that could mean more over time if it is replicated. Comparing different pollsters’ results is similarly risky; differences in the ways the polls were conducted can mean we’re effectively comparing apples to oranges.
· Both the PPIC and Field polls grossly overstated support for our position among voters throughout the No on 8 campaign. Both are serious, reputable entities, but both have a track record of getting it wrong on this issue. So let’s not prematurely celebrate a new instance of their offering us a rosy view of our situation.
All that said, of course we can study the PPIC and Field polls and hope that future polls of theirs suggest at least the possibility that majority support for our position is close, or at least that the electorate is closely divided.
We simply need to keep in mind that, even if it appears in repeated polls that we have achieved majority support among likely voters, we have more work to do before we have a logical reason to believe that we will sustain majority support through the heat of a campaign. This is particularly prudent given that same-sex marriage is a high-profile, attention-charged topic where our opposition has demonstrated an ability to move voters to its side and to eat away at our base. We have to do the necessary work to hold onto our supporters, turn them out to vote, and find a way to win over some of the undecided voters and a swath of those who are currently against us.
The LGBT community should therefore try out lower-stakes experiments with two different types of voters:
· Those in our base who are at risk of being peeled away by the homophobic kids argument; we will need to learn what it will take to retain them (more on this in Recommendation 2 below)
· Those not yet in our base; we will need to learn how we can persuade them to join us.
Both of these types of experiments in voter persuasion make sense now—between campaigns and before the next ballot measure on marriage—before we invest in a high-stakes, costly, and inherently difficult statewide campaign. Let’s take the time to learn whether and how many voters are open to changing their minds, who they are, and what messages they respond to. Recommendation 3 (below) describes an experiment that has already shown promise and suggests others worth considering.